Pretty little things
“A girl like you”
In the first few weeks of college, I was spending a lot of time with a boy that I met in zero week. He was about twice my height and ten times as sweet as any of the boys that I had met in the summer before. He treated me well — sent me morning and evening greetings and walked me back to the dorms almost every day of the first week. It was pretty obvious to me that he wanted something from me. I assumed it was the same “something” that most boys wanted.
Not long after, I found myself on the carpet of his dorm room, with his lips pressed against mine. I was expecting it to roll out again, that same way it had rolled out the entire summer before. At that point I had almost accepted it. I had almost accepted that what most boys wanted was the physique that I carried — not the mind I had spent years molding, not skills I had spent endless hours building, and not the spirit I had spent countless nights cultivating. I had almost accepted it because accepting it was a lot simpler than questioning why.
I had almost accepted it so when he pulled his lips away from mine, I was caught by surprise.
“I don’t want this to be a one time thing,” he said. “I really like you.”
“I know,” I was confused. Where was this going? He stopped, but he could have gotten what he wanted…or what I thought he wanted. It was hard to make sense of what he really wanted from me. He had been so attentive to me. He had been so mindful of his words to me, so careful of his touch, and so considerate of my thoughts.
I didn’t know how to continue so I told him my history — all the unwarranted kisses, the inexcusable touches, the tear-filled nights, and the empty days. We bathed in silence for what seemed like eternity. Then he looked at me, his eyes calm and sure.
“A girl like you,” for the first time since I’ve met him his voice was stern, but drowned in sadness, “shouldn’t have to go through that.”
Not in the Broken Glasses
Throughout high school, I had hated me. I hated my height, my bums, my thighs, my calves, my feet, my arms, my stomach, my neck, my shoulders, my voice and just about anything that I could see, touch, or hear that was my own. Beyond that, I also hated the things that were inside of me and the traces I left behind — I hated my mind, hated the way that I obsessed over my grades, hated that I couldn’t keep my friends, hated every mistake I made — in playing piano, in singing in choir, in spending time with my friends, on the tests, quizzes, and essays. Then in the summer after high school, I hated the decisions I made, the things that I wanted to do, the things I wanted to explore. I believed that these things made me impure and took away my innocence. I have convinced myself that I was not worthy of being truly loved by anyone. And no one has ever really convinced me otherwise.
So the words “a girl like you” were incomprehensible when he so carefully placed them in my ears. What kind of girl was I? How was it possible that I was actually some kind of special to him, to anyone? How could he or anyone see me as someone to be cherished?
After him, a few others have approached me with these kinds of words. Some of them said it for sport, some in pursuit, some in truth. Regardless of their intentions, I loved hearing it. I loved hearing that I was beautiful to somebody, that I was something, that I meant anything to anyone. I would laugh, I would smile, and I would thank them, but I would never really hear the words. I never really believed them because I never really understood what it meant for me to be “beautiful” to anyone.
To me, beauty was something that was unattainable. Beauty was soft silky hair, big bright eyes, small and petite nose, softly curved but defined jawlines, high cheekbones, clear and bright skin, tight and delicate body, defined shoulders and collarbones, and long skinny legs. Beauty was everything that I was not. Maybe I couldn’t really understand myself as beautiful because I never truly grasped what “beauty” meant.
For most of my life, I believed that perceiving beauty was an instantaneous sort of thing. Growing up, I loved drawing cartoons — the long hairs, the pretty princess outfits, and the high heels. I believed that beauty was something that was only visually appealing.
But beauty is a feeling. Beauty is in Debussy’s Clare de Lune — where the sadness of the moon is recaptured when the notes on the sheet music is transformed into melody. Beauty is in Captain Miller’s last words to Private Ryan in the ruins of war. Beauty is in the words of Anne Frank inscribed so innocently in her pink diary in a not so innocent time. Beauty is in the limits of our knowledge in the vastness of the skies. Beauty is in the sun that sets amidst miles of clouds on your last college road trip with your best friends. Beauty is in your little sister’s handwriting in her card for you as you graduate college and she enters college, in collection with all the letters she had written since she was in kindergarten.
Beauty is the appreciation for the struggles of being alive, the heartbreaks, joy, and devotion of love and passion; it is the feeling of unity and solidarity in our humanity amidst the immense diversity of our experiences; it is the realization of the vastness of our universe, despite our seemingly insignificant existence, and our connection to the cosmos. Beauty is something that is felt with stories, something felt in context and with understanding. It cannot be found in the pieces of the shattered mirror where I so desperately searched.
During my last year in high school, my dad wrote to me in one of my retreat letters:
“An important thing I have seen in you is your talent in creating beauty. No, I do not mean the beauty of your face or other people’s faces. I mean the beauty of your drawings and piano performances, and ceramic creations. You see, without beauties, the world would not be worth living.”
My relationship to beauty has been greatly interlaced with my dad when I was growing up. My dad would say to me, half teasingly, “what do you accomplish by working so hard to be pretty?” “would you rather be pretty or smart,” and “would you rather be pretty or useful?” I would look at him with my cheek puffed with air, accusing him of telling me that I couldn’t be both pretty and smart, or pretty and useful. Then he would chuckle and give me a pat on the head, telling me that being pretty is not that important.
When I read his letter, the word beauty seemed poetic but meaningless. I could not grasp what my dad meant by the “beauty” in my creations. To me, I thought that our conversations around beauty has always revolved around the length of my eyelashes and my hair or the skin and meat on my bones. I thought that perhaps the things I created were “beautiful” because they were pleasing to look at.
Throughout these past few years, I’ve realized the “beauty” that was talked about in this poetic sense. I’ve realized it through the “beauty” that people found in the words I spoke and wrote…because words are not something you can simply see, but must feel. I’ve realized it through the “beauty” that my friends and family found in the things that I did…because interactions build connections and connections are not something you can simply display. I’ve realized it through the things I found “beautiful” myself — all the things that were invisible but deeply felt.
Recently, I’ve realized that when I sought beauty in this way, this feeling kind of way, I began to understand what it meant to be beautiful. If our view of the world reflects upon our view of ourselves, then we must first learn to admire all the sorts of beauties in the world before we can understand the beauties in ourselves. We will find that true beauty is beyond comprehension, beyond quantification, and beyond tangibility.
I think maybe you love me
because there’s something beautiful
in something that is a little cracked,
a little broken,
but fighting to be whole again
Maybe you love me
because of my fight
despite my injuries.
Maybe you love me
because I want to have courage
and I am battling for faith.
Maybe you love me
because there’s a part of life missing
without these cracked people
fighting to find their pieces.